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“When Conservatives Cry Wolf”: It’s More Like A Howl For Attention And A Public Relations Campaign

There were two important developments in the Republican Party last week. Let’s take stock.

First, after years of saying that yes, they would develop and introduce an alternative to Obamacare, three GOP senators finally presented one: Orrin Hatch, Tom Coburn, and Richard Burr unveiled what they call their PCARE plan (yes, it’s another one of those syrupy, dopey Washington acronyms that have become such a pestilential constant in our city). Conservatives exulted; “See? We can be serious about policy!” But as Jonathan Chait wrote, the thing was awfully general and sketchy, and as soon as people started asking serious questions about how this or that would work, “things began to fall apart.” As of now, the plan has evanesced into something that no one really takes seriously and everyone recognizes for what it is—a mere talking point, a general outline that exists solely so Republicans can go on teevee and say they have a plan.

The second development occurred several days ago when John Boehner promised big movement on the immigration front. We’ll do a bill this year, he said. No citizenship, no “amnesty,” but a process toward legal status. The Republicans were ready to cut a deal. Boehner posted his guidelines for reform on his web site Monday. By Friday, 4,500 comments had been posted, roughly 95 percent (or more!) of them negative (“Please tell the Jews that we don’t want their One World Order. If they like immigrants send them to Israel[sic],” wrote user “Barbara Cornett”). At the end of the week, Boehner suggested that immigration reform might not, after all, be on the docket this year. (Update: I softened this language from the original, at the suggestion of Greg Sargent, and he’s right about Boehner’s words, although I remain a hard-shell skeptic.)

Remember when we had a “budget deal” in December, and the government didn’t shut down again, and negotiations didn’t go until the eleventh-and-a-half hour? At that point, we actually had some people talking about the dawn of a new day in Washington. Maybe the Republicans really were changing their stripes.

When an alcoholic is destroying a family, it’s his drinking, self-denial and lies that are creating the problem. But a lot of the time, the family contributes, too. It’s in, perhaps, its own state of denial. “Oh it’s not so bad, really. Oh he’s under lots of pressure. I think he can stop, I really do. Maybe not just yet. As soon as he gets through this (intense time at work/family illness/etc.).”

This is what the larger Washington establishment has become: The enabling spouse of the drunk. “They’ll change. I just know it. This time, I really don’t see how they can’t. I mean, supporting immigration reform is so clearly in their own self-interest!” And certainly, it is. But laying off the sauce is certainly in the alcoholic’s self-interest, too. In that case, we all understand why the alkie doesn’t stop. It has nothing to do with self-interest. He knows his own self-interest. But he can’t change until his shame and disgust with himself is such that he’s ready to try.

With the GOP, it’s more complicated, because this isn’t just one person’s conscience. It’s an entire machinery of ideology-fueled delusion and rage. In fact, now that I think about it, our two examples above are perfect, because each describes the two huge problems with the GOP extremely well. They also explain why they’re not going to be putting down the bottle anytime soon.

The healthcare vignette provides us a textbook example of how the GOP has retreated into policy fantasyland. The specific policy point on which the plan began to unravel was as follows: Our GOP trio proposed, of course, a way to cover more Americans, because that’s pretty much the point, right? Right. Okay. Well, to cover more people, you have to spend money, which means you have to come up with a way to finance it.

Obviously, that’s a pretty thorny dilemma for Republicans. But the trio decided to finance their healthcare expansion by placing a cap on untaxed health benefits. That is, healthcare benefits are untaxed right now. So Hatch, Burr, and Coburn would have taxed benefits starting at about 65 percent of the average cost of a plan.

In other words—yes, a tax increase! An expert from the Kaiser Family Foundation told Talking Points Memo: “This would be a meaningful hit on people. It’s a big radical change. This is not an incremental thing, and it affects most people under 65.” So, they quietly changed it, raising the cap, which obviously means less revenue and less coverage.

You can imagine what those three would have said if Obama had put forward something like this. (He proposed a tax on “Cadillac plans,” but they affect only a small percentage of health consumers.) So why would they do the same? Because they live in policy fantasyland. This plan wasn’t intended as anything serious. It was created for public relation purposes only.

Immigration showcases the other malignant GOP tumor: The rage of the base. The base won’t permit immigration reform. It’s pretty much that simple. Boehner, of course, could stand up to that base, and he’d pass a bill, with mostly Democrats. But he just told us he’s not going there.

And so it goes. People often ask me, Tomasky, when do you think they’re going to change? The answer, of course, is it depends. If they somehow capture the White House in 2016, then there’s no incentive to change, and the future is pretty bleak. But if they lose to Hillary Clinton, and she wins reelection, then I do think that by 2024 it will finally be a different party. Is that supposed to be reassuring? That’s a decade away!

In the meantime, they will keep doing what they do. I really wish Washington would stop enabling them, but people are nervous about their nonprofit status, their funders and board members, and are simply devoted to the idea that both parties are responsible. They’re helping the drunk stay drunk. As my friend Bill B. says, from their comments and actions on healthcare and immigration, to contraception and most everything else, the Republicans keep telling us who they are. When are people going to believe them?


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 10, 2014

February 11, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Health Reform, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Liberals, Conservatives, And The Meaning Of Work”: Ideological Republicans Do Not Understand What It Means To Be Human

It appears that those who talk so much about “economic freedom” aren’t too happy when ordinary people have more choices.

It isn’t often that we spend an entire week talking about a Congressional Budget Office report and its implications, but the one currently occupying Washington’s attention—about the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the labor force—is actually pretty revealing. To catch you up, the CBO said that due to the fact that under the ACA people are no longer tied to jobs they’d prefer to leave because they can’t get health insurance on the individual market (“job lock”), many will do things like retire early, take time off to stay at home with kids, or quit and start businesses. They projected that these departures will add up to the equivalent of 2 to 2.5 million full-time positions. At first, Republicans cried “Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs!”, but when everyone, including the CBO’s director, said that was a blatantly misleading reading of what the report actually said, they changed their tune. And here’s where it gets interesting, because this debate is getting to the heart of what work means, what freedom is—and for whom—and just what kind of an economy we want to have.

Paul Ryan may have been the first Republican to articulate the new attack based on the CBO’s report, when in a hearing on Wendnesday he lamented that fewer Americans would “get on the ladder of life, to begin working, getting the dignity of work, getting more opportunities, rising the income, joining the middle class.” The argument was quickly picked up by others. “I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea. Why would we want to do that? ” asked Senator Roy Blunt on Fox News Sunday. Representative Tom Cole said the same thing on This Week: “Anything that discourages work—and that’s essentially what the CBO found, that this discourages some people from working, not a good thing at a time when the economy’s still struggling.” Representative Trey Gowdy said, “What the liberals and the Democrats want you to believe is, ‘Well, but you’ll have time to write poetry.’ Well, that’s great until you try and buy your grandkid a birthday present or you try and pay the heating bill.”

You might read that and wonder, “Just how dumb do they think people are?” If you’re, say, a 63-year-old who has enough savings to retire but doesn’t want to wait until you’re 65 and can get Medicare, the fact that you can now buy private insurance doesn’t mean you’ve failed to “get on the ladder of life.” Nobody is going to say, “Wait—I can buy insurance now, even though I once had cancer? Woo-hoo, no more work for me, ever!”

But to be honest, I’m a little torn about how far to go in interpreting the arguments Republicans are making. On one hand, it’s obvious that they are saying what they are because they feel obligated to take any and every opportunity to cry that Obamacare is destroying America, and they’ll do that no matter what the facts are. If the CBO report had said that the ACA had no effect at all on job lock, they’d probably be arguing exactly the opposite of what they are now, that it was diminishing Americans’ freedom by keeping them in jobs they hate.

On the other hand, it’s hard to say that at the moment they’re not being candid about what they really believe. Job lock never really bothered them before, and I think that’s because it’s a case of the market diminishing people’s freedom. Conservatives get very upset when the government diminishes freedom, but if the market does it, well them’s the breaks. If you got screwed by market forces, then that just means you’re a loser, and they’re the party of winners. David Atkins may go a little far here, but he’s right to point to a basic difference in how people of different ideologies view what it means to be human:

It is not an inaccurate or extreme statement to declare that ideological Republicans do not understand what it means to be human. They view human beings as economic units to be plugged at their lowest possible price into a maximally efficient market that provides the greatest possible returns on investment to the wealthy few, with any resulting human resentment and misery dulled by humility before a pleasure-fearing angry God promising rewards to the obedient in the hereafter. It is a dark, meager, shriveled and cramped vision of humanity.

I’d modify that to say that while most conservatives may view lives devoted to non-money-making endeavors as frivolous, it’s only when certain people take advantage of the kind of freedom we’re talking about that they get genuinely perturbed. They aren’t campaigning for a higher estate tax so the Paris Hiltons of the world will be forced to get jobs and contribute meaningfully to society instead of laying about all day spending their forebears’ money. It’s the idea of someone of modest means having the ability to organize their lives to work less that they find morally intolerable.

But conservatives should be quite satisfied with the way the American economy is organized, particularly compared to our peer nations. Unions are a desiccated husk of what they once were, leaving workers with little or no power. Wages are stagnant and benefits are shrinking, while corporate profits and the share of wealth held by those at the top are at or near all-time highs. Our safety net is, by international standards, quite meager. The United States is the only advanced industrialized democracy that does not mandate by law that everyone get paid vacation. If you’re lucky enough to have it, chances are you get two weeks at most. The European Union, by contrast, requires four weeks of paid vacation for all workers, and some countries in Europe go beyond even that.

In other words, this is the economy conservatives built. And yet when just one area of uncertainty is removed for ordinary people—the fear that you’ll lose your health coverage if you leave your job or work fewer hours—they begin delivering lectures to the lesser folk about “the dignity of work.” This is from a bunch of rich white guys who spend their days hobnobbing with other rich white guys. What I’d suggest is that they ask the people who clean their toilets about how much dignity and fulfillment they derive from their work, and then ask them whether they’d feel less dignified if they knew they could leave their jobs and still get health coverage. For a group of people who spend so much time talking about “economic freedom,” conservatives seem awfully hesitant to let too many people taste it.

In the real economy—not the economy of a Republican congressman’s imagining, where the only perspective that matters is that of the guy in the corner office, but the real economy—bosses are sometimes kind and sometimes beastly, compensation is sometimes fair and sometimes stingy, and for most people, work is the thing you do so you can carve out a little bit of time to do the things you’d rather be doing. It would be a wonderful world if everyone drew limitless fulfillment, engagement, and purpose from their work. But this is not that world.

Unfortunately, government can’t make everyone love their jobs so much they leap out of bed in the morning. But what it can do is stop the gross injustices, keep the ruthless from harming the helpless, soften the market’s cruelties and give people at least a chance to reach the kind of lives they want. Is that too much to ask?


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 10, 2014

February 11, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Following The Money”: Evidence Mounting That Walker Campaign Is At Center Of Criminal Probe

Newly-unsealed court documents and media leaks add to a growing body of evidence that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign is at the center of a wide-ranging secret probe into campaign finance violations during the state’s contentious 2011 and 2012 recall elections.

The John Doe probe began in August of 2012 and is examining possible “illegal campaign coordination between (name redacted), a campaign committee, and certain special interest groups,” according to an unsealed filing in the case. Sources told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the redacted committee is the Walker campaign, Friends of Scott Walker. Campaign filings show that Walker spent $86,000 on legal fees in the second half of 2013.

A John Doe is similar to a grand jury investigation, but in front of a judge rather than a jury, and is conducted under strict secrecy orders. Wisconsin’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeals unsealed some documents last week as it rejected a challenge to the probe filed by three of the unnamed “special interest groups” that had received subpoenas in the investigation and issued a ruling allowing the investigation to move forward.

The special interest groups under investigation include Wisconsin Club for Growth, which is led by a top Walker advisor and friend, R.J. Johnson, and which spent at least $9.1 million on “issue ads” supporting Walker and legislative Republicans during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections. Another group is Citizens for a Strong America, which was entirely funded by Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012 and acted as a conduit for funding other groups that spent on election issue ads; CSA’s president is John Connors, who previously worked for David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and is part of the leadership at the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity (publishers of and Wisconsin Reporter). Other groups reportedly receiving subpoenas include AFP, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the Republican Governors Association.

In January, the judge recently appointed to oversee the John Doe probe quashed subpoenas to Wisconsin Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, and the Walker campaign, apparently based on a theory that coordination was not illegal because the groups’ ads did not expressly tell viewers to “vote for” Walker or “vote against” his opponent. If upheld, the ruling could have major implications for Wisconsin campaign finance law, as the Center for Media and Democracy identified, and could potentially undermine candidate contribution and disclosure limits. Prosecutors plan to appeal that decision.

Probe Led by Bipartisan Group of Prosecutors

The latest probe grew out of an earlier John Doe investigation into illegal campaigning in Walker’s office during his time as Milwaukee County Executive, led by Milwaukee’s Democratic District Attorney John Chisholm, and which resulted in six criminal convictions — including three Walker aides, one political appointee, and one major campaign contributor — for a variety of crimes including embezzlement, campaign finance violations and political corruption.

Walker unambiguously denied being a target in the first John Doe investigation, but has been mum on whether he or his campaign is implicated in the latest probe.

Prior to the court unsealing documents in “John Doe II,” individuals subpoenaed in the investigation and subject to its secrecy order had strategically leaked some information to friendly right-wing media sources. Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O’Keefe defied a secrecy order to speak with with members of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and unnamed sources spoke with the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity’s Wisconsin Reporter. As CMD has documented, Franklin Center was launched by O’Keefe, and its Director of Special Projects, John Connors, is president of Citizens for a Strong America.

Wisconsin Reporter and the Wall Street Journal editorial board have consistently attacked the probe, characterizing the criminal investigation as a “political speech raid” and citing unnamed sources to portray the investigation as a Democrat-led “taxpayer-funded opposition research campaign” with “one party in this state using prosecutorial powers to conduct a one-sided investigation into conservatives.”

The new court documents undermine those portrayals. The documents show that while the probe started in Milwaukee, it quickly spread to four other counties and is now led by Republican and Democratic prosecutors.

The five-county effort is the result of Assembly Republicans pushing changes to Wisconsin law in 2007 to require that individuals accused of campaign finance or ethics violations be charged in their county of residence, rather than where the violation actually occurred. The subjects of this John Doe investigation live across the state, the filings show, in Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Iowa, and Milwaukee counties. The 2007 law was widely seen as an effort to help Republicans avoid trial in Madison, Wisconsin’s capitol, where campaign finance violations would be most likely to occur but whose District Attorney and judges are perceived as liberal.

“Whatever the reason for the enactment of [the statutes], from the standpoint of judicial administration, the results are chaotic in a John Doe investigation where the subjects live far and wide within the state,” wrote Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz in an unsealed filing with the Court.  “The only reasonable approach to the handling of this circumstance is to assign one judge to hear all five John Doe proceedings.”

The judiciary in each of the five counties appointed a Milwaukee judge to oversee the proceedings. The bipartisan group of District Attorneys then asked the court to appoint a Special Prosecutor to coordinate the investigation, after Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen declined to lead the probe, citing potential conflicts of interest. The nature of this potential conflict was redacted from the unsealed court documents.

Unnamed Candidate Committee Requests Opinion on Funding Legal Fees

Earlier this week the Government Accountability Board issued an advisory opinion on the use of campaign funds for legal fees, in response to a request from an unnamed candidate committee, described as a group “currently subject to an investigation which could expose the committee to both civil and criminal penalties.” The GAB advised that a committee may use campaign funds when facing both civil and criminal charges, but must establish a segregated criminal defense fund when the investigation becomes “purely a criminal one.”

When asked whether his campaign had requested the opinion, Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal that “we’re not getting into details about this.”


By: Brendan Fischer, The Center for Media and Democracy, February 7, 2014

February 11, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Front In The War On Poverty”: The Affordable Care Act Will Do For Most Americans What Medicare Did For Seniors

Buried in Sunday’s Washington Post was a small notice of a study on senior citizens living in poverty. The numbers have plummeted from the late 1960s, according to a study of census data done by the Akron Beacon Journal.

27 percent of seniors were living in poverty more than 40 years ago, compared to only 9 percent today. There are 3.7 million seniors living in poverty today as compared to 5.2 million in 1969, while the number of seniors has more than doubled during that time, up to 40.6 million.

So who says President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s War on Poverty was a failure?

The reasons for this drastic reduction can be placed squarely on retirement programs like 401(k)s, Social Security and the establishment of Medicare in 1965. In addition, many continue to work post-65, many saw the tough times of the Depression and World War II and have been careful and frugal.

Another important change that I was involved in back in the 70s working for Sen. Frank Church, who was Chairman of the Aging Committee, involved the capital gains tax on the sale of one’s home. Congress passed an exemption for seniors who sold their homes and downsized, saving them substantial sums from taxes on their primary nest egg. Prices of homes had gone up and this change was crucial for many seniors and is still important today.

But there are still too many Americans, both young and old, living in poverty. Too many are without jobs, too many have jobs that don’t pay enough to raise a family and the future of pensions and retirement savings is far from certain. A new Kaiser study even indicates that additional health expenses could raise the percentage of seniors in poverty up from 9 percent to 15 percent.

And that is why the importance of the Affordable Care Act cannot be understated. Before Medicare, many seniors were one serious illness removed from bankruptcy. Today, the same is true for many Americans. The ACA, when it is fully implemented, will do much the same as Medicare to keep Americans out of poverty.

Here is what life was like before Medicare: The cost of health care for seniors kept many from having even basic hospital coverage. Only one in four had insurance that would cover 75 percent of a hospital stay, and half of all elderly Americans had no insurance at all.

The point is that when we look back at American life in the pre-Johnson era, the pre-Medicare era, we faced a daunting problem. We did much to solve that problem for the vast majority of seniors. Now, with the ACA, we can do the same for most Americans.


By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, February 10, 2014

February 11, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Poverty, Seniors | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Phony Experts On Retainer”: Fight Over Minimum Wage Illustrates Web Of Industry Ties

Just four blocks from the White House is the headquarters of the Employment Policies Institute, a widely quoted economic research center whose academic reports have repeatedly warned that increasing the minimum wage could be harmful, increasing poverty and unemployment.

But something fundamental goes unsaid in the institute’s reports: The nonprofit group is run by a public relations firm that also represents the restaurant industry, as part of a tightly coordinated effort to defeat the minimum wage increase that the White House and Democrats in Congress have pushed for.

“The vast majority of economic research shows there are serious consequences,” Michael Saltsman, the institute’s research director, said in an interview, before he declined to list the restaurant chains that were among its contributors.

The campaign illustrates how groups — conservative and liberal — are again working in opaque ways to shape hot-button political debates, like the one surrounding minimum wage, through organizations with benign-sounding names that can mask the intentions of their deep-pocketed patrons.

They do it with the gloss of research, and play a critical and often underappreciated role in multilevel lobbying campaigns, backed by corporate lobbyists and labor unions, with a potential payoff that can be in the millions of dollars for the interests they represent.

“It is the way of Washington now — and that is unfortunate,” said John Weaver, a Republican political consultant who has helped run several presidential campaigns. “Because if it’s not dishonest, it’s at least disingenuous.”

In this case, the policy dispute is over whether increasing the minimum wage by nearly 40 percent to $10.10 an hour within two and a half years would reduce poverty or further it.

Even if the legislation never passes — and it is unlikely to, given the political divide in Congress — millions of dollars will be spent this year on lobbying firms, nonprofit research organizations and advertising campaigns, as industry groups like the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation try to bury it. Liberal groups, in turn, will be spending lots of money as they try to make the debate a political issue for the midterm elections.

The left has its own prominent groups, like the Center for American Progress and the Economic Policy Institute, whose donors include nearly 20 labor unions, and whose reports, with their own aura of objectivity, consistently conclude that raising the minimum wage makes good economic sense. But none has played such a prominent and multifaceted role in recent months as the conservative Employment Policies Institute.

The Employment Policies Institute, founded two decades ago, is led by the advertising and public relations executive Richard B. Berman, who has made millions of dollars in Washington by taking up the causes of corporate America. He has repeatedly created official-sounding nonprofit groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom that have challenged limits like the ban on indoor smoking and the push to restrict calorie counts in fast foods.

In recent months, Mr. Berman’s firm has taken out full-page advertisements in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and plastered a Metro station near the Capitol with advertisements, including one featuring a giant photograph of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is a proponent of the minimum wage increase, that read, “Teens Who Can’t Find a Job Should Blame Her.”

These messages, also promoted on websites operated by Mr. Berman’s firm, including, instruct anyone skeptical about the arguments to consult the reports prepared by the Employment Policies Institute, most often described only as a “nonprofit research organization.”

But the dividing line between the institute and Mr. Berman’s firm was difficult to discern during two visits last week to the eighth-floor office at 1090 Vermont Avenue, a building near the White House that is the headquarters for both.

The sign at the entrance is for Berman and Company, as the Employment Policies Institute has no employees of its own. Mr. Berman’s for-profit advertising firm, instead, “bills” the nonprofit institute for the services his employees provide to the institute. This arrangement effectively means that the nonprofit is a moneymaking venture for Mr. Berman, whose advertising firm was paid $1.1 million by the institute in 2012, according to its tax returns, or 44 percent of its total budget, with most of the rest of the money used to buy advertisements.

Disclosure reports filed by individual foundations show that its donors in recent years have included the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a longtime supporter of conservative causes. Mr. Berman and Mr. Saltsman would not identify other donors, but did say they included the restaurant industry. But its tax return shows that the $2.4 million in listed donations received in 2012 came from only 11 contributors, who wrote checks for as much as $500,000 apiece.

Mr. Saltsman, 30, who has an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Michigan and previously worked for the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, drafts dozens of letters to the editor and opinion articles for newspapers, arguing that increasing the minimum wage would hurt more than help. Other special institute projects included a recent survey of lawmakers who support the minimum wage increase asking if they pay their interns — a report The Daily Caller, a conservative online publication, then released, calling out the lawmakers with unpaid interns as hypocrites.

The major reports released by the institute are prepared by outside academics, like Joseph J. Sabia, an associate professor of economics at San Diego State University, who has collected at least $180,000 in grant money from Mr. Berman’s group over the last eight years to deliver seven separate reports, each one concluding that increasing the minimum wage has caused more harm than good — or at least no significant benefit for the poor.

“There is never a good time to raise the minimum wage,” Mr. Sabia said at a briefing in the Longworth House Office Building late last month that was co-sponsored by the institute, as he laid out the findings of his newest report to Capitol Hill staff members and reporters. “You are not reaching the poor workers you want to help.”

Mr. Sabia said in an interview late last month that his research conclusions were developed independently. “I don’t write advocacy policy briefs,” he said. His papers are also submitted to academic journals, which publish them after a peer-review process — a standard, he noted, that publications put out by left-leaning groups like the Economic Policy Institute often do not meet.

What is clear is that the reports by the Employment Policies Institute are a critical element in the lobbying campaign against the increase in the minimum wage, as restaurant industry groups, in their own statements and news releases, often cite the institute’s reports, creating the Washington echo chamber effect that is so coveted by industry lobbyists.

“Once you have the study, you can point to it to prove your case — even if you paid to get it written,” said one lobbyist, who asked not to be named because his clients rely on him to use this technique.

But some questions have been raised about the institute-funded work. Saul D. Hoffman, a professor of economics at University of Delaware, examined the employment data Mr. Sabia used for a 2012 paper funded in part by the institute. Mr. Hoffman concluded that the narrow cut of data Mr. Sabia picked was perhaps unintentionally skewed, and once corrected, it would have showed that the 2004 increase in New York State’s minimum wage had no negative impact on employment — the opposite of the conclusion the institute had proclaimed in its news releases.

Mr. Berman, 71, a onetime auto mechanic turned labor lawyer and restaurant industry executive, rejected any suggestion that his reports were based on bias or faulty data.

“I get very upset when people say we are putting out junk science and twisted economics, because that happens to be our criticism of other people,” Mr. Berman said in an interview at his office. Yet internal company documents show that members of Mr. Berman’s team — at least when they have been involved in some of the other corporate-backed projects — have discussed ways to massage academic data to change outcomes.

For example, an academic study published by researchers at the University of Southern California concluded that soda had higher concentrations of high-fructose corn syrup than advertised. Mr. Berman’s team, hired by the corn refining industry to defend its sweeteners, mobilized staff at his Center for Consumer Freedom to challenge the results.

“If the results contradict U.S.C., we can publish them,” said an email sent to Mr. Berman and other staff in October 2010 from a Berman employee at the time, referring to the University of Southern California report. The exchange became public recently as a result of a lawsuit between the sugar and corn refining industries. “If for any reason the results confirm U.S.C., we can just bury the data.” Mr. Berman said that the employee who wrote that email left more than a year ago and that such practices were not allowed at the institute.

Left-leaning groups like the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have filed legal complaints, arguing that the large payments to Mr. Berman’s for-profit firm may violate the law, an accusation that Berman and Company strongly disputes.

What is most important, said Lisa Graves, the executive director of an organization responsible for the online publication PR Watch, is that newspapers detail Employment Policies Institute’s corporate ties when they cite research it publishes. Such disclosure happened in less than 20 percent of the cases over a three-year period, an analysis by PR Watch found.

“They are trying to peddle an industry wish list, but mask it as if they are independent experts,” she said. “They are little more than phony experts on retainer.”


By: Eric Lipton, The New York Times, February 9, 2014

February 11, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Lobbyists, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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